A couple of kids from Wilmore who love story-telling have written and directed seven musicals, helping hundreds of kids tell Bible stories in a creative way to thousands.
Siblings Jeremy and Kendra White were home-schooled in a family that loved story-telling.
“We just grew up telling each other stories,” Kendra, 24, said. “We’d play games at the family table and say, ‘OK, finish the story — there was a man ...’ I always loved the art of story-telling.”
They both stayed in Wilmore after high school, attending Asbury College and studying media communications.
“I went to Asbury and really started learning about the nuts and bolts about how to put a story together; it just felt right,” Kendra said. “I love the impact that a story has on a person’s life. It’s just a motivator more than a sermon or a lecture to tell people a story that sticks with them.”
From college they diverged, with Kendra moving to Mississippi for a job and Jeremy going to work at a Lexington church. And while the two have separate job duties, they depend on each other for guidance, help and even criticism.
When Jeremy, now 27, the director of children and media at First Assembly of God in Lexington, started looking for a musical in 2007, he didn’t like the options he found; he said he didn’t want to throw his energy into a “cheesy musical.” So Jeremy and Kendra decided they could write their own.
“Growing up, we always said, ‘You know, we could write better stuff than this,’ and finally, I was like, ‘You know what? If we’re going to do this, let’s put our money where our mouth is; let’s make this thing happen,’” Jeremy said.
The first musical, “David,” involved about 60 students and saw a crowd of 500 at its one performance. The productions only grew as time went on as the Whites wrote a new script each year, with pop-culture references and pop-song parodies galore in each.
“The parents love it, because the songs are all parodies, so they’re all songs they grew up singing, whether it’s Journey or Queen or Abba or Michael Jackson or whoever it is,” Jeremy said. “Justin Bieber, Backstreet Boys — we’ve done a little bit of everybody.”
Kendra said the goal is a high entertainment value as well as memorable Bible stories.
“We’ve got kids swinging from the rafters, harnessed in over the audience, and we’re shooting out confetti guns; they’re fun songs, and they’re stories that stick with the kids, and that’s what’s encouraging to me,” she said.
After productions about Esther and Moses involving about 100 students each, this year’s musical about Elijah and Elisha was the work of 225 students. Last year the Whites added a second production, separating the high-schoolers from the other students. Jeremy said they try to give each student a memorable part.
“Our goal is to give every kid a chance to shine, so you’re not just a choir member singing with everybody else; you’ve got a part that’s special for you,” he said. “You are singing with the choir, but then maybe you’re part of a group of soldiers, a guard, or one of the street people that has a line — everybody has a place that they can feel special.”
Jeremy and Kendra are working on their eighth and ninth musicals for next year; their “launch party” to announce the production is scheduled for Jan. 6 and they expect at least 500 people to attend.
“We like to build up the hype and keep it a secret until we know what direction we’re going,” Kendra said, adding that people who want to be involved on any level are invited. “They’re not all from our church; they come from all over, people that aren’t church people, people that are from other churches that just want to be involved in these musicals.”
The Whites keep three main goals in mind for the musicals, Jeremy said: teaching the students the stories, seeing students and parents work together as the body of Christ, and developing gifts in the students.
“We want them to be better performers, singers, dancers; we want to develop those artistic abilities,” he said. “And then also the students help with the set, so they’re able to help build sets and work on costumes, so it’s neat to be able to develop some of these gifts in students.”
The hundreds of miles between central Kentucky and Mississippi don’t stop Jeremy and Kendra from working together on the productions; they spend many an evening on Skype throwing out ideas and developing the stories.
“There’s no one I’d rather spend the day with or hang out with than Kendra,” Jeremy said. “We have the same background and similar experiences and similar giftings, but even within those giftings, we’re slightly different.”